Counterfeit Gods

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Christ the Center recently interviewed Rev. Tim Keller, pastor of Redeemer PCA in Manhattan, about his most recent book Counterfeit Gods: The Empty Promises of Money, Sex, and Power, and the Only Hope that Matters. The panel discussed the nature of sin as idolatry and how such things as money, sex, and power, vie for God’s rightful place in the human heart. Pastor Keller provided powerful insights into the nature of idolatry and how the human heart really is deceitful. This was a very fruitful discussion.

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30 Responses to “Counterfeit Gods”

  1. Tim H. says:

    Reformed Forum hitting the big leagues!

  2. Stephen says:

    Or have sold out, depending on which Presbyterian purist you talk to.

    • Camden Bucey says:

      That is certainly how some people would look at it. I thought the interview was great. People give Dr. Keller a hard time. I might disagree with him on certain aspects of ministry philosophy, but he is a very bright man and God has certainly used him to further His kingdom.

  3. Stephen,

    Someone can only say we have “sold out” if they apply the same criterion to someone posting a G.K. Chesterton quote under their blog picture!

  4. Ricky Rubio says:

    …what’s next for “reformed forum”- do an episode with Joe Osteen? …Or Mark Driscoll perhaps?

    …and point out how God uses them even though we disagree with them on “certain aspects”?

    Never mind contending for the truth and calling out error, let’s simply talk about different “ministry philosophies” instead…

    • Camden Bucey says:

      Ricky,

      Would you seriously lump Tim Keller in with Joel Osteen? I for one enjoyed this interview even though I was not involved in the recording. Though people have issues with Tim Keller, he is an ordained minister in the PCA, a NAPARC church. As such, he is well within the scope of people we are interested in speaking with. It doesn’t mean we have to agree with him on every point. His books are well-written, thoughtful, and helpful. I have no reservations about what Keller said in this interview. Regardless we understand “Reformed” in Reformed Forum to refer to the regular panelists, not necessarily the guests.

      • Ricky Rubio says:

        Bruce,
        thank you for your reply and my apologies for the tone of the first post. It was late at night and I was less than gracious.

        Ultimately, Bruce, yes: I would lump Dr. Keller together with Joe Osteen. I would gladly defend this stand in more detail but in the interest of time and space let me attempt to get at the core:

        I noted you took issues with Osteen and not (necessarily) with my Driscoll comparison… In doing so you probably agree that, in principle, Driscoll and Keller have much in common. Their infatuation with culture and the world which bleeds so desperately into their socially-driven gospel is one and the same. The only difference being that Driscoll, never outgrowing his sophomoric years, now justifies his foul language and irreverence in the pulpit by appealing to the type of audience he is trying to reach, while Keller, lacing his gospel with his endearing social and psycho-analytic observations caters to the ‘educated and sophisticated’ NY city demographics.

        And here is where Osteen and Keller also meet. Whether we eclipse the gospel with a self-improvement or a social/wellbeing agenda, the end result is the same: We do not preach the gospel anymore. But in contrast with Osteen, Keller’s credentials and affiliations you listed only make the matter more serious and the need to call him out more urgent. Because our (reformed) confessions and affiliations do not protect us from our desire(s) to cater to itching ears. The only thing that changes is that the vices employed get a bit more sophisticated.

        So I think you might understand why I would not find your categorization of panelists vs. guests particularly helpful. I fear that, in giving audience and speaking affirmatively of such ministries (Keller), a forum espousing reformed doctrine only helps to blur the waters between sound and unsound. And trust you me, there is a lot of confusion in the church regarding this already.

        Yours,
        R

      • Ricky Rubio says:

        :) …just noticed I called you Bruce 2x??!! Sorry about the slip, Camden.

      • Camden Bucey says:

        I don’t think the supposed social agenda of Keller’s is anywhere close to what Joel Osteen is doing with his self-improvement gospel. Many of the ecclesiological aspects as well as certain views of the church’s relation to culture are issues for me, but I would not say Keller’s gospel is a false gospel. Joel Osteen’s is another story.

        Yes, I did not mention Mark Driscoll. I have watched/listened to several of his sermons and have appreciated much. I have also been disappointed and frustrated with his tendencies toward the “sophomoric.”

        Perhaps it would help me to comprehend the weight of this particular comparison if you clarify what you mean by a socially-driven gospel, that is, Keller’s “lacing his gospel with his endearing social and psycho-analytic observations.” Does a social/cultural observation compromise the gospel? Given that Dr. Keller is the subject of this episode and comment thread and the nature of these comments, I think he deserves more than a casual treatment.

    • Ricky,

      How is basketball in Spain working out for you?

  5. Ian Watson says:

    As pastor of a medium sized Presbyterian church in Scotland I found this one of the most helpful interviews ever. Only in the US would you link selling out with Dr. Kellor. You guys want to spend a year over here – then you’ll realize just how good you have it.

  6. Rick Rubio says:

    Camden,

    The following excerpts are from Redeemer’s (Tim Keller’s church) ‘vision and values’ pages. It seems to me that even a casual read of these should leave an objective reader with a clear sense that the focus for this church is some sort of cultural renewal and cultural engagement. No doubt the gospel is mentioned, but it appears to be used as a mere vehicle for social change, a means to a seemingly ‘greater’ end, like building a great city(?):


    “To build a great city for all people through a gospel movement that brings about personal conversion, community formation, social justice and cultural renewal in New York and throughout the world.”

    “We believe that nothing promotes the peace and health of the city like the spread of faith in the gospel. It renews both individual lives and reweaves the fabric of whole neighborhoods. We believe that nothing moves Christians to humbly serve, live with, and love all the diverse people of the city like the gospel does.”

    “The gospel creates a new community which not only nurtures individuals but serves as a sign of God’s coming kingdom. Here we see classes of people loving one another who could not have gotten along without the healing power of the gospel. Here we see sex, money, and power used in unique non-destructive and life-giving ways.”

    “We have no illusions that our single church or our Presbyterian tradition is sufficient to renew all of New York City spiritually, socially, and culturally. We are therefore committed to planting (and helping others plant) hundreds of new churches, while at the same time working for a renewal of gospel vitality in all the congregations of the city.”

    “We believe that the gospel has a deep, vital, and healthy impact on the arts, business, government, media, and academy of any society. Therefore we are highly committed to support Christians’ engagement with culture, helping them work with excellence, distinctiveness, and accountability in their professions.”

    “To build a great city for all people, through a gospel movement

    Again, the emphasis on social renewal/engagement could hardly be clearer. So I ask a simple question: How could the reformers have made such a blunder?

    Let me make my question a little clearer: If we trust that the reformers faithfully captured the main things of our faith, as we believe to be the case in Westminster Confession which I know we both affirm, why is it that we do not find even a hint of this ‘cultural mandate’ in it? Not even a HINT? Surely if the matter were even somewhat important for our faith and for our maturing in Christ, or even for our ability to evangelize, would they not have at least relegated half a paragraph to it? I submit to you that it is not mentioned because the reformers wisely figured it outside of the bounds of what is needed for establishing disciples in sound doctrine, and consequently, clearly outside of the main articles of our faith.

    If this is true, then I will let you judge for yourself Redeemer’s focus and its effects on the gospel they preach. Can we really mix ‘additives’ of our choice to the message of the gospel, make them one of our main themes, and have the gospel escape unharmed and uncompromised? You had my verdict. And whether we agree on how far or how close this is to JoeL Osteen’s problems is probably not as important as recognizing that a wrong emphasis clearly compromises the gospel: Our gospel ceases to be THE gospel.

    Yet Tim Keller makes this cultural theme (what I previously called his infatuation) unashamedly his core topic, in his books and in his preaching, and for the most part the reformed community is happily ‘cheering’ him on.

    Take another example from his sermon which was recently posted on the “Gospel Coalition” website. The same theme sprouts up all over this message entitled “the Gospel” (http://sermons2.redeemer.com/sermons/gospel). Here’s some of what he says about the results of the gospel and how it ‘restructures’ our heart:
    “…God says, ‘there is a way out’. There is a way to emotional inner freedom and cultural freedom. And what is it? Well, let’s go back to the text. Here’s what God says. He says, into this ancient culture, “Sing, O barren woman, You who never bore a child!” Sing o barren woman! That is so culturally radical what He is calling women to do. He is calling women to an inner emotional freedom from shame and a culture of freedom from external oppressive structures. He is saying, ‘I can give you freedom from men, from family, from what you culture tells you’… …this was utterly radical for that culture.” (min 9:00-10-38)

    Does this really require further commenting?

    I could go on for a long time, Camden, book by book, sermon by sermon. But I don’t think this is the right place for going beyond what I have already written. You have my email, however, and if interested, we can continue this discussion offline anytime.

    In Him.

  7. Adam says:

    The Gospel is the message of God’s covenant of grace in Christ.
    In 1647, the Westminster Assembly was convened by the English “Long Parliament” which was under the control of Presbyterian Puritans.
    The Scottish Parliament ratified the confession of faith and catechisms in 1649.

    I’ll let you be the judge as to whether or not the Assembly thought the Gospel had HUGE social effects and should be changing culture.

    And about the Gospel’s “inner psychological effects,” again, read the Puritans and I’ll let you be the judge as to whether the Westminster Divines thought the Gospel had HUGE psychological effects.

    • Rick Rubio says:

      No, Adam.

      What you are bringing up is an important point, but not related: The intersection of ecclesiastical authority with that of the offices of the civil magistrates.

      It’s important issue and worthy of discussion but has absolutely nothing to do with today’s Redeemer-like churches cultural and social agenda.

      As for the puritan view, I don’t think I need to comment further than to say that, when we affirm a confession, we also affirm that the things not found in it have been excluded rightly. Otherwise a confession ceases to serve its purpose. Because, yet again, if we believe the main things have been faithfully captured- a puritan (or any other for that matter) majoring in the things which fall outside of the confessed articles has created his own version of the confession, one which I for one have no interest in affirming nor defending.

  8. Tim Schultz says:

    Rick, how much time have you spent reading and/or listening to Keller? I respectfully suggest that, before you lump him in with Osteen (which you consider a grave insult), you spend some more time considering his words with the same spirit of generosity that you naturally want your own words to be considered.

    I’m familiar with all of those Keller excerpts you cite, and I doubt anyone who has listened to him a lot would take the arch meaning from them that you do.

  9. Adam says:

    Another thought along the same lines as the earlier post:

    The Confession doesn’t talk much about making a Christian culture, because they took it for granted.
    Tim Keller talks about it all the time because he can’t take it for granted.

  10. Mark says:

    Rick:

    I would be interested in hearing your view of what effect the gospel of grace has on the the people who are transformed by it ? Do believers and converts essentially continue to live as pagans without having any effect on the culture, or does the transformation of the lives of the consitutents of culture actually have a changing effect on the culture ? I am not understanding why you seem to have a problem with the idea that when a heart is regenerated, that actions follow which when taken as a whole have a transforming effect on the community within which the regeneration occurs. BTW- this is hardly a new concept. You should read some of William Wilberforce, i.e. True Christianity, which basically reads like an applied systematic theology, and arrives at very similar conclusions.

  11. Adam says:

    You said in a previous post:
    Yet Tim Keller makes this cultural theme (what I previously called his infatuation) unashamedly his core topic, in his books and in his preaching, and for the most part the reformed community is happily ‘cheering’ him on.

    But you also said:
    I am not understanding why you seem to have a problem with the idea that when a heart is regenerated, that actions follow which when taken as a whole have a transforming effect on the community within which the regeneration occurs

    What’s the difference between what your saying and keller is saying? You both think christian culture (psychological, civil, familial, etc) is the end of the covenant of grace (both the near and the future aspects). And I’m not knocking this formula. i likes.

  12. Mark says:

    Adam:

    I think there is some confusion. That was the first time I posted. I was posing the question to Rick who seems to have serious issues with Keller.

    • Rick Rubio says:

      Mark,
      a few thoughts that may have not been immediately evident in my previous posts…

      I have no issues with Tim Keller. I do believe, however, that most of his sermons and books, right along with the mission he helped to lay out for his church, skew the message of the gospel to such an extent as to make it unbiblical in emphasis, and therefore, false. So my point was that the Bible has a serious issue with Tim Keller. This being the case – and a very obvious one – what I take issues with is the seeming lack of voices of concern (censures) within the Reformed circles, beginning with, most obviously, the PCA as his home denomination. It is clearly in their local and national assemblies where this discussion primarily belongs- and not in the online forums. Besides the fact that I am not a big fan of blog/forum sites this is the main reason why I am not particularly eager to say more than I have already stated here.

      But let me briefly attempt to answer your questions even as I strive to make it my last post- pray you understand.

      You Wrote:
      “I am not understanding why you seem to have a problem with the idea that when a heart is regenerated, that actions follow which when taken as a whole have a transforming effect on the community within which the regeneration occurs.”

      Should we look at the Scriptures on this? We will find them silent on the ‘culture transforming sum-total effect’ you speak off. Silent. But what they do say most clearly is that, as our hearts have been regenerated by the sovereign grace and act of God, our lives should bear much good fruit (John 15:2-8; Mark 4:20;Gal 5:22; Col 1:10; Jam 3:17-18; Phi 1:9-11). This fruit is to adorn our profession of faith so that non-believers might glorify God in the Day of their visitation (1 Pet 2:12) just as the Lord desires that all should come to repentance (2 Pet 3:9).

      Our fruit adorning the Gospel message, by the grace of God, leading to repentance and salvation of many.

      Culture? I suggest to you that the conclusion you draw is never mentioned, much less emphasized, nor should – to the best of my discerning – be deduced as a “good and necessary consequence” from the Scriptures. It is neither good nor a necessary deduction. Because, Mark, “culture” will by definition always include both regenerate as well as the unsaved. “And what accord has Christ with Belial? Or what part has a believer with an unbeliever? ” (2 Cor 6:15) Or to use the beloved buzzword- what has the “culture” of the living have to do with the “culture” of the dead? Truly, to emphasize the transforming and beneficial effects of the Gospel on the general/societal level is to sadly misunderstand the Gospel.

      The Scriptures are silent, our confessions are silent… So how should we then reconcile this silence and Tim Keller’s emphasis on the same (culture)? I suggest to you that we cannot and we ought not.

      In Him.
      R

      PS:
      Tim, I pray that I gladly and most eagerly take your advice daily – in every circumstance and on every occasion. Except… Except when souls of men are at stake (read: purity of the Gospel).

  13. Adam says:

    Mark
    Yikes, my sincere apologies. Thanks for being more gracious than I probably would have been to me.

    Adam

  14. mark says:

    Rick:

    You said ” Culture? I suggest to you that the conclusion you draw is never mentioned, much less emphasized, nor should – to the best of my discerning – be deduced as a “good and necessary consequence” from the Scriptures. It is neither good nor a necessary deduction. Because, Mark, “culture” will by definition always include both regenerate as well as the unsaved. “And what accord has Christ with Belial? Or what part has a believer with an unbeliever? ” (2 Cor 6:15)”

    You do not believe that it can be validly deduced as a necessary consequence that the transformation from a pagan to a regenerate believer will have a positive effect on a community ? Whether they are believers or unbelievers ? Please explain how the growth of numbers of persons living as servants of Christ logically has an adverse effect on a community ?

    I have listened to hundreds of Keller sermons and read his books. In part this was to see if what his critics were saying is true, and in part because his unpacking and application of the scriptures is I do not think that you are accurately representing Keller’s ministry as over emphasizing “culture”.

    Take just one of his quotes that you used above as an example: “We believe that nothing promotes the peace and health of the city like the spread of faith in the gospel. It renews both individual lives and reweaves the fabric of whole neighborhoods. We believe that nothing moves Christians to humbly serve, live with, and love all the diverse people of the city like the gospel does.”

    1) What part of what he said is false ? He is making an observation. The fact that his observation is not cataloged in the bible does not make it false.
    2) Where is he saying that the primary purpose of the gospel is to change the culture ? In fact, none of the quotes you cite above states that the primary purpose of the gospel is to effect change in the culture.

    Furthermore, in the over 100 sermons I have listened to, maybe 10% of them deal with the idea of the culture changing through the gospel.

    Have you listened for example to his message from Romans ? Therein lies one of the best presentations of the gospel and total depravity that I have heard. Have you listened to his series on Hebrews ? Genesis ? Who is Jesus ? Have you listened to his 10 part series on sin ? Have you listened to his sermon on predestination ( again one of the best and most practical witnessing tools I have heard on the subject ) or on the Cross ? None of these sermons series is even remotely related to the “false gospel” that you attribute to Tim Keller. I don’t agree with Keller on every point, but it seems to me very careless for you to claim that throughout his sermons and books he promotes some sort of social gospel.

    I would challenge you to listen to Keller’s sermon in his introduction to the book of Romans, which clearly sets forth his understanding of the gospel. After listening to that, I would be interested in hearing your critique.

    • Rick Rubio says:

      Mark,
      You wrote: “You do not believe that it can be validly deduced as a necessary consequence that the transformation from a pagan to a regenerate believer will have a positive effect on a community ? Whether they are believers or unbelievers ? Please explain how the growth of numbers of persons living as servants of Christ logically has an adverse effect on a community?”

      I am not sure what you mean by “Whether they are believers or unbelievers?” or why you would attribute to me a notion of regeneration as having an adverse affect on any community. My point is simply that the Scriptures do not emphasize the general ‘communal’ effects and, therefore, we should not. In terms of a community, the emphasis is very clearly and overwhelmingly on the Kingdom of God, whose membership we very presently enjoy (through His Church), whose ambassadors and citizens we are, and whose purity, soundness, and maturity we are to pray and strive for one disciple and one local church at a time. Want to emphasize community? That’s the one.

      If you struggle with that you probably also struggle with our Confession. Because even if you wish to connect the dots of the Scripture the way you do, you still have to contend with the notion that there are no “Of the Culture” or “Of the Community” headings found in the Confession. Your estimate is a modest one (10%), but even according to your own reckoning we ought to find at least 3 chapters dedicated to this very subject in the it(!). I am afraid that if we were to believe Tim Keller and his church on this we would be forced to conclude that the reformers really blew it.

      So how would you like to ‘sell’ to an airline a pilot with a proven record of going 10% of course, who in spite of all the navigational aids continues to stray willingly and consistently? Or how about your plane being piloted by a pilot who misses his target 1 out of 10 times? …Would you think careless those who would call for the pilot to be removed from working for the airline, at least for as long as he learns how to fly straight? I suggest to you that Tim Keller is entrusted with something infinitely more valuable than an airliner.

      Look, Mark, I am happy to continue this privately. If you have further thoughts please respond to samisonite at gmail.

      • John says:

        Rick,

        I know you posted this almost 18 months ago now, so who knows if you will read this. I am not PCA, I have friends who are, I am simply a Christian. I attend a large bible preaching church. As a result of that teaching many have been saved, lives changed. Pre-destined or not many have many put in the exact right spot at the exact right time to hear the message of the gospel and have had communities changed because of it. There is a man named Paul, he wrote 7O% of the NT as I’m sure you are aware. In most all of his letters he spoke on actions and reformation of lives. He wrote to groups of people, specifically addressing cultural issues and need for cultural reformation. He did this whil using the context of the Bible. I live in an area of the country where the PCA is huge. RTS is 25 minutes from my house, and I work for a university affiliated with the PCA church. Keller has been a tool of God that has changed and saved many lives. God has used him in a powerful way, along with others like Olsteen, Driscoll and the like. When Jesus preached the most religious men of his time ridiculed him and accused him of being a false preacher. He associated with the unloveable, he gave grace to the most undeserving. I think it is very proud of us as Christians to say that God cannont use or has not ordained a man like Keller simply because we think his messages talk too much about cultural change. In this day and age that is a message that is needed. Just as Paul preached a message of grace and salvation for the Jew AND the gentile. How do you think the holiest and most religious of that time felt about that message? Well, not real good they jailed Paul. I think we would be wise to not dictate our religious ideas and learning to allow who and what message God uses. Just a thought.

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I appeal to you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them. For such persons do not serve our Lord Christ, but their own appetites, and by smooth talk and flattery they deceive the hearts of the naïve. (Romans 16:17-18)

 
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